NFU opinion: Election hopefuls are hearing farming’s voice
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2010
There is now less than two weeks to go until we get the opportunity to place our X on the ballot paper of what many have referred to as the most ‘interesting’ election of recent times.
It brings to mind the Chinese proverb about the curse of living in interesting times, because the ‘interest’ has largely been around the fact that the election outcome in terms of the future government of this country is so uncertain. The chance of either the Conservatives or Labour having an overall majority is thought to be less than one per cent, with coalition or minority government the almost certain result.
The long-running almost certainty of an uncertain outcome has shaped the campaign and the parties’ manifesto commitments. Parties have focused on a smaller number of concrete policy commitments than usual, knowing that a coalition or minority government is less likely to be able to deliver individual policies.
One positive outcome of this for the National Farmers’ Union and farmers has been our ability, in the final stages of the last Parliament, to get the government to deliver on some of our key election asks ahead of the election itself. For example, the final Coalition budget has already delivered on our demand for five-year income averaging for farm businesses and there is now legislation on the books to deal with fly-grazing.
NFU lobbying in the run-up to the election has ensured that the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have all made commitments to develop 20 year-plus food and farming strategies in the next parliament, addressing one of our key concerns: volatility of markets and climate. All parties are also committed to agri-tech strategies to give us the sound science and training we need to take our industry forward.
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The one area that appears to set at least one party apart from the pack is the UKIP position on Europe. However, the UKIP position on farming is, in reality, remarkably similar in substance to the other parties’ positions; simply a nationalised version of the current EU Common Agricultural Policy subsidy system.
UKIP’s chances of being able to deliver this policy appears even smaller than the chance of a Tory or Labour majority. Perhaps UKIP’s major impact has already been achieved in terms of the referendum commitments wrought out of the other parties.
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There are many areas where the NFU has looked for specific policy commitments from all parties and they have not been forthcoming. All have offered warm words about continuing support for the new Groceries Code Adjudicator, broadband roll-out to rural areas, and improved labelling, but few firm commitments.
NFU members have been active, working with the county advisers and group secretaries, here in Suffolk and Essex and nationwide, to get our messages across.
We’ve held meetings with prospective candidates from all parties to pin them down on the detail of how they would convert broad statements into precise policy if elected. This is democracy in action at its best. While at a national level the parties remain cautious, we are tallying the commitments individual candidates are making in our constituency meetings with them.
We will be following up with all of them that are in the next Parliament, whether they be in government or opposition, as the likely narrowness of the result is likely to leave all MPs in the mix for shaping future policy.
More information about farming and the General Election is available on the NFU website at http://bit.ly/1Im1xox